Three Russians and a Ukrainian have gone on trial in Amsterdam for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.

The suspects, who are still at large and believed to be in Russia, are being charge in absentia with the murder of all 298 passengers and crew. MH17 was en-route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a Russian surface-to-air missile in Eastern Ukraine.

The prosecution says the suspects were involved in arranging the missile system which was used to shoot down MH17 on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Moscow rebels fighting Ukrainian government forces.

In his opening remarks, presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said: “Many people have long waited for this day. This tragic loss of so many lives has touched many all over the world.

“The court wants to say it realises the impact of the loss of so many human lives and that the way it happened was almost incomprehensible.”

Suspects held senior positions in pro-Russian milias

The defendants are named as Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, all Russian nationals and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. All of the suspects held senior positions in the pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The first action of the court was to verify whether the suspects had appointed defence lawyers and outline the timetable for the case.

The downing of MH17 led to heightened tension between Russia and Western powers, leading to EU sanctions against the country. Among the dead were 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysian and 27 Australian nationals.

Image courtesy of the Dutch Safety Agency